Can only the confessional be Calvinists?

This is a thought provoking and interesting extract from the blog of Roger E. Olson. It raises a lot of questions in my mind, I don’t know If i am in full agreement but would be interested to know of others thoughts. I have worked in a church setting where being openly ‘Calvinist’ would have been frowned upon, and now I work within a church which has proud roots in the reformed faith.

“Due to the rise of what my friend Scot McKnight calls “neo-Puritanism” (what others have labeled “the new Calvinism” or just “resurgent Calvinism”) TULIP Calvinism is popping up in places it does not belong. Especially young men are reading John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, even Michael Horton, and taking this new found theology “home” with them into the denominations they grew up in or have joined. Often those denominations are historically averse to Calvinism–such as Wesleyan-Holiness, Pentecostal and Anabaptist ones.

Often these denominations did not have the foresight to expect this influx of “young, restless, Reformed” people and so never wrote statements of faith that explicitly excluded TULIP. Their whole, entire ethoses were contrary to TULIP, however, and “five point Calvinism” is completely foreign to their histories and theologies.

I receive e-mail all the time (too many to respond to) from pastors, lay people, and even theologians (college, university and seminary professors) informing me about this infection of Calvinism in their denominations and related institutions. Usually they want some advice about how to handle this.

Now, let’s be clear about what I’m talking about and am NOT talking about. Many denominations are historically-theologically, confessionally Calvinist. Of course I’m not talking about them. They are where Calvinists belong!

Then there are many other denominations that are historically-theologically open to Calvinism; Calvinism has long been accepted as a live option within them. An example would be certain Baptist denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention. I see no problem with Calvinists belonging to these denominations and even promoting Calvinism within them–so long as they do it fairly (not misrepresenting other views or implying that Calvinism is the only legitimate Christian theology).

Finally, though, there are denominations that are historically-theologically rooted in theological-spiritual movements antithetical to Calvinism. What I mean is that these denominations’ prototypes (founders, leading spokespersons, etc.) were set against Calvinism and everyone knows that. Some of them have authoritative confessional documents that rule out Calvinism. Some do not. Either they never suspected that Calvinism would come into them or they are non-creedal and non-confessional “Bible only” denominations that eschew written statements of faith.”

Read the full article.

I don’t think I fully agree with the writer, but I understand the struggle one invites upon their head in bringing historical, reformed faith to denominations that were set against it.


Lessons from my First Three Years of Ministry (part 2)


On Monday I began reflecting on some of the lessons that I have learned in my first three years in ministry. Over the next week or so I will post some of these reflections on the blog.

Lesson 3 – Bible Colleges: The Most Effective Way of Training?

Perhaps I went to bible college with naïve expectations…

When I signed up for Bible Collage  I thought that it would all be about Jesus, that it would be super practical, it would give me all the tools I needed to handle the bible and together, we would storm the gates of hell…

Some of it was great, particularly the stuff that was all about Jesus and was super practical. There was some really great teachers and classes which have equipped me to this day. I also have met some of my best friends (some of them contribute on the blog) at bible college and that was a really important aspect of my own growth.

However it wasn’t all like that.

A lot of my lessons consisted of ‘Ivory Tower Theology.’ High theology without the ‘so what?’ factor. Some of it was interesting, some of it boring, some of it fried my head… But it was often left without application. I often left puzzled, asking my self; ‘what does this mean for me?’ or ‘how will this apply to my future ministry?’  Sometimes there was some fantastic application, but for the most part there was none. The lack of application was one of the biggest disappointments.  Perhaps  I was supposed to apply it myself, perhaps I wasn’t bright enough…

Another expectation that I had was that I would be able to hear from seasoned pastors, passionate missionaries and ministry leaders. That was the case. However opportunity’s to hear about how they dealt with pastoral situations and complex issues was not an important aspect of most classes.  That would have been a real blessing to hear about some of these things so that I too could learn to deal with similar issues. Don’t get me wrong, some of the teachers did this, and those are the classes that I remember clearly.

Some of the lessons were way over my head and I didn’t have a clue what was going on and at times my grades reflected that. Perhaps this says more about me and my academic ability.

Perhaps my experience would have been very different if I had years of ministry experience in my belt before signing up. Perhaps my experience would have been different if i had a better attention span.

I appreciate that people may disagree with this particular lesson and that other people may have had completely different experiences.

However this has left me wondering if bible college/seminary is the best or only route into pastoral ministry.

During my first 2 years of ministry I was able to attend a course which my area ‘Gospel Partnership’ put together.

The morning’s consisted of lectures, bible overviews, expositions of various bible books.

The first session of the afternoon was a time to practice preaching. A group of guys would get together lead by a local pastor and take turns to preach sermons that they had prepared and then everyone would give feedback, advice and tell you how you can improve on your content, style and delivery. These afternoon sessions were priceless.

The second session of the afternoon would be practical it might be about counselling, sexuality, addiction, mission or evangelism.

This course was a great blessing and in many ways complemented my time at bible college. Most people who were on this course were church apprentices who were being trained for ministry while working in a church under the close guidance of a pastor. They had the opportunity to shadow a pastor, quiz him, be taught by him but were also sent on a day release for some more rigorous training

I’m left thinking that bible college is perhaps not the most effective method of training for ministry. I think church apprenticeships is a more natural and organic method of training complemented by things like the ‘Gospel Partnership’ courses and ‘Cornhill.’

Bible college does have its place, but i don’t think it is the most natural method of training. Perhaps after an apprenticeship bible college may be of much more value.

What are your thoughts? Have you had a completely different experience of bible college? Are you a church apprentice? Leave a comment below.

The Historic Faith


The divinity of Jesus is central. It is the most basic yet mysterious thing you will ever be told or tell of.  It is a truth-claim that divides and demands response, and this response defines you. As Christians we understand the beauty and benefit of responding positively to the Lord Jesus Christ; we have tasted the fruits of faith and joy of Christ’s comfort. Yet we should not be surprised when people attack or challenge the truth of Jesus’ divinity: Not only do we live in a society where the popular voice has little respect for theistic belief, but people realise that the truth of Jesus’ divinity means parts of their life must change.

A little over ten years since the publication of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, I still meet people who somewhat patronisingly inform me that Constantine, the Roman emperor, got the early church together at a council and promoted Jesus from mortal prophet to a God and before that Jesus was only thought of as human. This view seems to have been accepted by folk as an easy side-step to the Christian claim, but it is riddled with historical inaccuracies. The Bible contains within it ample evidence of the early church’s belief that Jesus was God, but the evidence doesn’t stop there.

Two really clear examples come from the Letters of Ignatius, which were written by the Bishop of Antioch,Syria.  According to Michael W. Holmes, a leading New Testament and Apostolic Fathers textual critic, there is ‘near unanimous consensus that Ignatius was martyred during the reign of Trajan (AD 98-117)’ and that the letters are considered authentic by the  ‘great majority of scholars since [the late 19th century]’ [The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 170,172]. These letters were written to encourage various churches as he was on his way to be martyred. They show that the gospel and Jesus’ divinity were both believed and worth dying for. The first example is brief and memorable for conversations with skeptics. Below it is a second, longer quotation for a little extra juice.

For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit.

-The Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians, 18:2a


I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise, for I observed that you are established in an unshakable faith, having nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in both body and spirit, and firmly established in love by the blood of Christ, totally convinced with regard to our Lord that he is truly of the family of David with respect to human descent, Son of God with respect to the divine will and power, truly born of a virgin…’

– The Letter of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, 1:1

“It makes me feel…”

A youth ministry built on knowing Word of God, doesn’t sound sexy, or attractive but if our youth ministries are built on feelings – stories making you feel valuable, atmospheres making you feel close to God, songs making you feel loved, there will come a point when all that’s gone and our feelings betray reality.

Knowing Christ and making Him known – knowing from the Word of God, knowing you are valuable, knowing you are a sinner, knowing you are loved, knowing you are forgiven and God is faithful and close to you, then…then you have something to stand on, and in the face of the hurricane that is rejection, acceptance, failure, success, isolation, community, doubt, confidence, anxiety, security, betrayal, trust, embarrassment, celebration, guilt, forgiveness, torment, peace and many more experiences of growing up, you will have a life built on strong foundations that will endure.

I have so many conversations with young people who chase the wind in terms of experience of God. It’s a strange paradox of pain and blessing in drawing alongside them and pointing to a Life that pursues truth and righteousness not buzz and fuzz.

As was pointed out to me by good friends, feelings are important but they should be informed by truth. Iain Kennedy (Assoc. Pastor at Renfrew Baptist) said “Have the truth of the Gospel speak into every moment of life, even the feelings, be discerning: just don’t let your faith depend on the recreation of any particular feeling. The Gospel demands all of us, including our feelings.”

Kenny Rogan (Oak Hill College Student) was helpful with his suggestion to “lead to feel based on what they know is true”, or in Colin Ross'(Elder at Hillview Community Church) words “tempered and levelled out by our knowledge”.

I’m not superman, and so when I get bad news, I feel gutted, sad, angry etc… BUT when I come round to what I KNOW is good and true, then my feet are on solid ground. Thinking in the other direction, when I sing “my chains fell off my heart was free, I’m alive because of You…” And I know I’m forgiven, it should stir a greater feeling of joy and celebration than when your football team equalise in the 82min!

Truth regardless of feeling. Let’s lead our young people to feel yes, but feeling grounded in what they know.

Check out Alistair Begg nail the point exactly Knowing V Feeling from the 2009 West Coast Conference.